Music Hall’s founder, Roy Hall, has a well-deserved reputation as something of a maverick. A Scotsman, Hall emigrated to the US to assemble Linn speakers. When that didn’t pan out as he or Linn had hoped, Hall turned his attention to turntables, starting his own company in 1998. Decks of Hall’s design have generally been built by Pro-Ject in Europe, but the two brands share only a few design elements.
Many Music Hall turntables are fairly expensive, but Hall has always managed to offer entry-level ’tables that combine fine performance and value. His latest addition is the MMF-Mark 1, available in gloss-black and walnut-veneer finishes for $449 and $475, respectively (all prices in US dollars). Music Hall supplied the black version for this review.
The Mark 1 has an all-new J-shaped tonearm, which Music Hall says offers “exceptional rigidity and internal damping.” The arm and its captive head shell are aluminum and feature something rarely seen in an entry-level turntable: fully adjustable vertical tracking angle (VTA). This means the stylus can always be positioned at the correct angle for optimal sound reproduction. It also has an unusual (but effective) magnetic antiskate device. Note: other sources insist on calling the arm an “S shape.” I ask you, does the arm look S-shaped to you, or J-shaped?
The MMF-Mark 1 is supplied with a factory-installed Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, which Music Hall says is “perfectly matched to the characteristics of the tonearm.” Suggested tracking force is 2gm (20mN). The turntable is equipped with an unusual magnetic antiskate control; most decks use either a small weight on a thread or a spring system. The only other turntable I’ve seen with this type of antiskate feature was an expensive Thorens deck in the 1980s.
The MMF-Mark 1 measures 16.3″W × 12.6″D × 4.76″H and weighs 16.5 pounds. Its light alloy platter is topped by a felt mat. When tapped, the platter rings briefly, but the felt pad should dampen those vibrations. The platter sits atop a sub-platter around which the belt drive is looped. The motor pulley has two levels, the smaller for 33⅓ rpm and the larger for 45. The MMF-Mark 1 comes with a rather hefty plastic dust cover, which will help keep little fingers out.
Power is supplied by a standard wall-mounted outboard supply. The interconnects are captive—typical for a turntable in this price range. The turntable’s feet help reduce the amount of external vibration reaching the stylus, but they are not adjustable, so leveling the turntable (an important task) can be more complicated on the MMF-Mark 1 than on other comparably priced decks.
Other than leveling, setup couldn’t be much easier. Open the box and remove the dust cover and the forms that hold the turntable itself. At the bottom of the box, you’ll find the platter and felt platter mat. Also in the box are two Allen wrenches for adjusting tracking force and vertical tracking angle, the drive belt, a gizmo to help you change speed so you don’t touch the belt with your hands, the counterweight, a 7″ record adapter, and a plastic envelope containing a very good owner’s manual.
Excluding the time it took to adjust the tracking force, which won’t be necessary in most cases (but it’s a good thing to check), setup took less than ten minutes. The MMF-Mark 1 is one of the more truly plug-and-play units I’ve reviewed.
Tech check and operation
Music Hall claims maximum speed variation of ±0.9%, wow and flutter of ±0.2%, and maximum rumble 68dB below standard output. I checked speed accuracy and wow with the RPM app on my phone and tracking force with a digital stylus-pressure gauge. At the 33⅓ rpm setting, rotational speed was very slightly fast at 33.36 rpm (+0.09%) and wow was only ±0.07%—considerably better than specified. However, at 45 rpm, the RPM app clocked the rotational speed at 45.33 rpm (+0.73%). Even so, wow was a minuscule ±0.04%. If you have 45-rpm discs, you may find they sound slightly fast.
Before I played any records, I measured vertical tracking force (VTF) and found it to be quite high at 2.6gm (26mN). Music Hall includes an Allen wrench so you can loosen the counterweight and adjust the force yourself. Be warned, however, this operation is not as simple as it is on arms with a vernier-threaded counterweight. You’ll find it takes a lot of trial and error. It took me around three minutes to set the tracking force to the recommended 2gm.
Because the MMF-Mark 1 is fully manual, operation is quite simple. Locate the power switch in the bottom left-hand corner at the front of the plinth and turn it on. There’s a slight pause before the platter begins to rotate.
The arm is equipped with a damped cue mechanism that I found to be extremely precise at lowering the stylus to the proper spot. One slight downside is the unit is so light that it moves around easily, even when you just lift the dust cover.
As usual, I began with a classical piece, “Chanson de Toreador” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite, performed by the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch (London Phase 4 SPC 21023). If you watch The Simpsons, you may recognize the piece as the basis of the Duff Beer Song. It’s a stirring march with a 1-2-1-2 count. This 1967 recording shows its age a bit but has an amazing soundstage—very broad with an actual sense of depth. Played on the MMF-Mark 1, percussive notes were crisp and the strings were beautiful, if a bit distant. This affordable ’table pulled a great deal of music out of the grooves.
Next up was “Killer Joe” from Quincy Jones—The Best (A&M SP 3200). The tune originally appeared on Jones’s 1969 album Walking in Space. It features some of the best jazz players of the day, including Freddie Hubbard and Snooky Young on trumpet, J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding on trombone, Roland Kirk and Hubert Laws on reeds, Ray Brown on bass, Grady Tate on drums, and Bob James on keyboards. The song starts with just the bass and drums, with occasional chords from the piano, then a solo trumpet picks up the melody. In the bridge, a different trumpet enters, followed by a wonderful passage on flute. I thought the MMF-Mark 1 delivered a good sense of rhythm. While I did pick up just an edge of distortion, that could have been from the record itself. Trumpet attacks were fast, and they cut off sharply. And the flute was spectacular—the best part of the piece. Very decent!
One of my go-to CDs when I review gear other than turntables is the eponymous album by the smooth-jazz group Fourplay. I recently acquired the 30th-anniversary release of this album on LP (Evosound EVLP 025). My go-to tune is “Bali Run.” The track starts with a gentle riff on electric guitar, which is quickly joined by the bass. The guitar leads until the piano and synthesizers come in after eight bars or so. On the MMF-Mark 1, the musicians seemed to be tightly grouped around the piano, but there was good depth, as the drum set definitely appeared behind the piano. Percussives sounded tight, just as they should, and the bass plumbed the depths quite well. In all, a very good performance.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, a group named Lambert, Hendricks & Ross pioneered a style of jazz singing now known as vocalese. The Manhattan Transfer, the modern-day champions of the form, define it as “a style of music that sets lyrics to previously recorded jazz instrumental pieces. The vocal then reproduces the sound and feel of the original instrumentation.” One of the best examples from L, H & R is “Cloudburst,” from the album The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (Columbia PC 32911). The tune is very upbeat. When Jon Hendricks breaks into the bridge, I defy anyone to identify all the words he is singing. Ross, Hendricks, and Lambert appear left to right across the front of the soundstage, with the Ike Isaacs trio filling in around them. The MMF-Mark 1 did a stellar job with the tune. It delivered great definition of the words, making them easy to understand, along with good rhythm and faithful reproduction of the three voices. Really an excellent performance.
The 1982 song “Africa” from the Toto album Toto IV (Columbia FC 37728) is a staple of classic-rock radio, largely because it follows the pattern of all successful pop hits: it has a good beat, memorable lyrics, and several really good hooks—those little fillips that draw you in and hold your attention. While the line “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” is geographically incorrect, the song itself has legs. It’s just complex enough to give whatever system you’re playing it through a mild workout. David Paich’s keyboards and synthesizers create a wall of sound that at times has the listener trying to follow the various musical lines. Many entry-level turntables blur all this information, but the Ortofon OM 5E and MMF-Mark 1 had no trouble sorting everything out. The song sounded well integrated, even in the densest sections. I was very impressed and went back for another listen.
Kim Carnes’s rendition of “Bette Davis Eyes” from Mistaken Identity (EMI America SD 17052) was a huge hit in the early 1980s, due in large part to its primary hooks—notably its signature synth riff—and Carnes’s unusual voice. That riff establishes an eerie mood, which is enhanced by the lyrics. The “slap-slap” of the wooden paddle adds drama. Record World, a trade journal, called the song a “haunting pop-rocker.” Played on the MMF-Mark 1, that haunting quality came through very effectively. The riff starts out in both channels but drops back to the left when Carnes’s vocals come in. Her raspy voice was convincingly presented right up front. I was very impressed that this inexpensive turntable could provide such a fine performance of the song.
If you’re a fan of 12-string guitar, you’re probably familiar with Leo Kottke’s work. There are few guitarists of his equal. Leo Kottke’s 6- & 12-String Guitar (Takoma C 1024) includes a version of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” transcribed for the 12-string. As someone who studied both guitar and classical organ as a youth, I recognize that playing all the parts on a guitar is an incredible accomplishment. Through the MMF-Mark 1, the guitar sounded completely natural with nice air around the instrument. I thoroughly enjoyed the playback.
Music Hall MMF-Mark1 vs. Music Hall Stealth
It seems unfair to pit an economy deck against something three times as expensive, but sometimes a reviewer has to use what’s on hand. I decided to play “Birdland” from The Best of the Manhattan Transfer (Atlantic SD 19319) because it has many transients and quick phrases that a turntable and cartridge must navigate. “Birdland” is another vocalese performance. Right from the start, the MMF-Mark 1 portrayed the movement of the voices around the soundstage quite well. Attacks and releases were good. At the end, co-leader Janis Siegel sings an almost scat-like descant above the melody—another instance where I defy listeners to make out the words. In this case, the Stealth was the superior reproducer. I could make out roughly 50% to 60% of her words, compared to 40% (at most) on the MMF-Mark 1. However, this is a tough test of the speed at which a turntable responds to the information in the grooves. The MMF-Mark 1 also missed the very highest harmonics, but not by much. In all, it performed well for its price.
The MMF-Mark 1 did a lot of things right. Timing and coherence were good. At first, I felt the highest frequencies were a little truncated compared to the Stealth/Blue combo. But that changed as the review period went on and the stylus cantilever became more supple. My experience with the Ortofon OM series cartridges leads me to consider them very competent performers. I can’t give the MMF-Mark 1 a ten out of ten, but in its price range, it’s at least a nine. It handles records nicely. Although a bit fast on the 45-rpm setting, its rotational speed was very steady with no noticeable wow or flutter. It’s a fine-looking unit, it’s simple to unpack and set up, and it plays discs well. Considering the price, how can you go wrong?
. . . Thom Moon
- Analog Source: Music Hall Stealth turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
- Preamplifier: Apt Holman.
- Power Amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3; Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Interconnects: Music Hall supplied on the Stealth; captive on the MMF-Mark 1; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amp).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Music Hall MMF-Mark 1 Turntable with Ortofon OM 5E Cartridge
Price: $449 (gloss black); $475 (walnut veneer).
Warranty: One year, parts and labor.
Music Hall Audio
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
Phone: (516) 487-3663